Captain's Log: Zachary Olson
“Hello, Sweetheart, I missed you,” I say as I climb aboard F/V Sassy at the boatyard after a winter of hibernation. Immediately the work begins with opening her up to breathe and turning on the marine electronics to make sure they are all working. The following five days are spent going through the engine room, painting the hull, adding fresh zincs, and completing any additional repairs for the upcoming season. It is now the third week of May. Time to launch and start the season. First we have a casual three-day cruise from Petersburg to my home port of Sitka.
The start of any fishing season brings excitement along with a healthy dose of uncertainty. Will the salmon runs be strong? Will I find the fish? How are the markets looking? Did I do everything possible to be ready? And Oh yeah, don’t forget about the weather!
One new aspect for my business entering the 2021 season was being invited into the Sitka Salmon Shares family. Having this market along with their modern business model made sense. I often wondered where my fish went and who was purchasing them after delivery. Did consumers even care where their product was coming from? Well, apparently, they do. I am so thankful for that.
The typical fishing season seems long but goes by quickly. Soon I don’t know or care what day of the week it is. Thankfully keeping a logbook allows me to look back and remember.
I am putting my gear in for the first time in St. John’s Bay and witnessing the first king salmon of the season coming aboard. This is my favorite time of year to be on the water. Witnessing a king salmon rattling your gear, battling it to the stern of the boat, and swinging it on the deck is so rewarding. Each individual fish carries so much value this time of the year that losing one is disheartening. I look at the months of May and June as true fishing as we are searching for individual fish in restricted pockets of water. Later in the season, as the schools of migrating salmon move closer to shore, our fishing gear and tactics change to adapt to the larger biomass. To quote a fellow captain “in July and August we are not fishing we are harvesting.”
The season takes on new meaning. We now have access to the open ocean for our first king opener and hopefully a nice bonus of cohos. No more fishing small, designated pockets of water so there is pressure picking the right spot on this date. I did not, but luckily one of our Salmon Share boats did, and he guided me in to help salvage this key opener.
The rest of July found me off the shores of Baranof and Kruzof Islands with the hit-or-miss coho fishing it offered. Intel shared amongst the fleet said the fishing was no better north or south so Sassy stayed put close to Sitka.
This is another transition period for me. Suddenly, you notice the days are getting shorter, if even just a little bit. Usually, August brings bigger coho and our second king season. 2021 was different. The weather on the ocean was one storm after another and miserable fishing. Our salvation was an incredible biomass of keta salmon developing in Sitka Sound and Crawfish Inlet that transitioned into four weeks of fantastic fishing for our fleet.
I am battle fatigued mentally and physically. With the keta run finished, two of my partner boats and Sassy head north to finish up the season coho fishing and a soak at Baranof Warm Springs. I had every intention of fishing for two more weeks, but after five days of poor fishing, I mentally checked out and pointed my bow back to Petersburg for the winter haul-out. Fall colors surround me now and morning coffee takes almost two hours to drink. Time to heal and spend time with family and friends!
Zachary OlsonF/V Sassy
Know Your Author
Zach Olson is the skipper of the F/V Sassy. Zach became a commercial fisherman after a career as a fisheries scientist studying and managing fish populations. He spends his off-season in his home state of Michigan.